BEIJING - Overseas organizations may not be allowed to conduct surveys on China's intangible cultural heritage without the accompaniment of at least one local representative, according to the country's first draft law on the protection of intangible assets.
A puppeteer from Pingyang in Zhejiang province puts on a show in November at an exhibition featuring examples of China's intangible cultural heritage in Hangzhou, capital of the province. [Li Zhong / for China Daily]
The draft was submitted on Monday to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature, for its second reading as its bimonthly session began.
The draft law stipulates that overseas organizations wishing to conduct a survey on intangible cultural heritage must ally themselves with at least one Chinese culture regulatory agency as a local partner.
Written approval is also required to be obtained from local authorities at the provincial level or above before an overseas survey team can carry out fieldwork in China.
The draft law further stipulates that individuals from outside China must report to local authorities at the county level or above about their plans to carry out a survey on intangible cultural heritage and obtain approval before they begin.
Foreign organizations and individuals who violate the law may face fines ranging from 100,000 yuan ($15,000) to 500,000 yuan, according to the draft.
Intangible cultural heritage in the draft law refers to traditional, oral literature, rituals, arts, skills, sporting activities and festivals.
The ban on unapproved foreign surveys of the country's intangible cultural heritage was added to the draft law in response to the concerns of some legislators and local governments over the first version submitted for reading in August, said Li Chong'an, deputy director of the NPC Law Committee.
The first version of the draft said government approval must be obtained for surveys on intangible cultural heritage jointly conducted by Chinese institutes and foreign organizations, but did not specifically prohibit foreign organizations and individuals from carrying out surveys on their own.
The on-site collection of data and surveying form the basis of preserving and protecting the nation's rich treasure of intangible cultural heritage.
However, the lack of a clearly defined law in this area has resulted in loss and damage to some of the country's intangible cultural treasures, experts said.
Some organizations and individuals from abroad have taken advantage of this legal loophole to survey, collect, purchase and videotape China's intangible cultural heritage, said Ouyang Hongyu, who is devoted to protecting cultural heritage, including that of the Miao Ethnic Cultural Center in Taijiang county of Southwest China's Guizhou province.
Ouyang said some organizations and individuals from abroad have even hired local youths to search in Miao communities for purchases of vintage Miao ethnic costumes and works of embroidery, as well as to videotape how they are made.
Similar cases have been reported over the years regarding the fishing culture of the Hezhe ethnic people in Heilongjiang province and the Dongba culture of the Naxi ethnic groups in Yunnan province.
When Wang Yunxia, a law professor at Renmin University of China, last year visited mountainous areas of Wenchuan county in Sichuan province, which is inhabited by the ethnic Qiang people, she was surprised to learn that "friendly local villagers told all they know about the endangered and highly protected Shibi (shamanic) culture to inquisitive foreign researchers".
In some way, the acts of "surveying and collecting by overseas entities are helpful in promoting global awareness and understanding of China's extremely rich and diverse intangible cultural heritage", Wang said.
Nonetheless, "laws and regulations must be enacted to safeguard China's cultural security. The draft law is a timely remedy," she said.